It has been fifty years since Maynard Jackson become the first African-American mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. Less than ten years since the Civil Rights Laws came into being and only a little over four years since Martin Luthur King, Jr. was assassinated, Jackson would also become the first African-American mayor of a major city in the South. In honor of Jackson, that moment in history, and in celebration of that joyous accomplishment, Ford’s Theatre is presenting the world premiere of “Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard.”
…make sure you see it and bring your children and grandchildren. It is important that these stories are remembered.
His story is told through the written memories of those who lived through that time and Jackson’s rise to power. The idea of the playwright, Pearl Cleage, was to present a compilation of these memories by a group of actors in a loose version of a play-within-a-play. The cast is the actors who are brought together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that election. These thespians, from all walks of life, take on various roles of citizens reflecting on those times, the election, and the new mayor.
Cleage’s point is not to extol the virtues of Jackson. It is, rather, to look at America, especially the southeast, and see where we started at the end of the Civil Rights Era and where we are now. What you glean from this provocative production will be drawn from your own perspectives. The consensus is we have made progress towards acceptance of those not like ourselves, but not enough. For every three steps forward, there is one, or two, backward. For every caring person, there is someone who wants to turn back the clock. The parallel of that election and the jubilation that followed to that of President Obama is inescapable.
The ensemble cast, directed by Seema Sueko, is capably lead by Billie Krishawn as The Witness. The Witness comes out before the rest of the cast and speaks to the audience, warning us that the fourth wall will be broken for this play. She and the others will often be talking to us and responding to our reactions. The rest of the wonderfully talented cast includes Kim Bey, Constance Swain, Doug Brown, Shaquille Stewart, Susan Rome, Tom Story, Alina Collins Maldonado, Shubhangi Kuchibhotla, and Derek Garza.
There were some very powerful scenes and one in particular I think reflected the time. Citizen 1 (Bey) tells how she was the maid at a home of a white family who supported Jackson. The lady of the house (Rome) has special wine glasses that go back over a hundred years—when her family owned slaves. The glasses were buried in the backyard to save them from the invading Yankees. They are most treasured by the family and the maid despises those glasses.
There are some lighter moments, too. The group reminds us that Jackson did a great deal for gay rights in Atlanta and one section talks about Jackson’s visit to a gay bar for a drag queen show. There are also some happy memories like Jackson’s election and some disturbing ones—like the serial killer who murdered dozens of black children in the late 1970s.
Sueko’s direction is fast-paced and draws you further into this historical tour. It feels like you are looking out of the window of a train trying not to miss all the sights as you pass by.
The set by Milagros Ponce de León makes you feel like you are truly in this space. She uses projections to change the scenes or to show those who might not remember, what Jackson looked like.
If you can, make sure you see this production and bring your children and grandchildren. It is important that these stories are remembered. Maybe it should be a prerequisite for our elected officials who work down the road.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for all but very young audiences.
“Something Moving: A Mediation on Maynard” runs through October 15, 2023 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. For more information and tickets, go online. There are no Covid restrictions at this time.